With DC’s latest cinematic outing, Suicide Squad, currently battering August box office records despite a lukewarm critical and audience response, now seems like a good time to take a look at the latest cut of its previous effort. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice slammed onto screens in March as the first film to pit iconic heroes Superman and Batman with each other, and was generally a humongous let down. Two and a half hours of desperately scrambling together pieces to set up the “Justice League” movie and a total incoherent plot that barely managed to get the heroes fighting one another. Now out on Blu-ray, we have director Zack Snyder’s “Ultimate Edition” coming in at a whopping three hours. Has this updated version fixed the many problems? In short, we now have a roughly coherent film, but it begs the question as to why this wasn’t the final film in cinemas.
Quick plot re-fresh: In the aftermath of the biblically-boring amount of destruction at the end of Man of Steel, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck, or Batfleck) begins to fear the actions of an unchecked superhuman (Henry Cavill), and, thanks to some ludicrous and unexplained actions by mad scientist Lex Luthor (Jessie Eisenberg), Wayne ends up hating Supes and wanting a punch up.
The Ultimate Edition of B v S does add some elements to the film’s merit. For one, a lot of the added scenes come in the first half where Bruce Wayne is learning more about meta-humans and the general build-up, as well as Luthor’s elaborate plot to manipulate people into fearing Superman. While the original felt like there were just threads and nods to the plot devices that steered, here the players are fleshed out, with explanations of the set-up. The very first scene in the Middle East and its significance is explained far more clearly, plus, slightly, Lex Luthor’s hatred for Superman—although Eisenberg remains thoroughly annoying and in no way menacing.
The key action scenes also enjoy some added run time. We get a chunk more of Wonder Woman kicking ass in the final act, and the actual showdown between Batman and Superman, which was one of the few highlights of the original release, gets some added destruction which is welcoming, as the film, which is titled “Batman v Superman”, has a criminally short ‘v’ time of 15 whole minutes.
So now with extra footage reworked in, the result is a very, very long but roughly coherent film with all prior issues remaining sore. It simply boils down to the fact that Warner Brothers wanted this film to do far too much in just one outing ultimately to kick-start its cinematic universe. All other members of the Justice League had to be introduced, an antagonist had to be planned for, Batman had to be developed very fast so people could root for him, Wonder Woman had to have a back story, and all three had to have something to fight at the end. You technically can make a film with this much, but under all this weight, it cannot stand up.
It’s also apparent that with so much to do, Zack Snyder and the studio clearly forgot all about Superman. It was reported Henry Cavill had about 45 lines in the film – the ultimate edition adds none to this total, and it just makes the whole character redundant. He’s strong, out of place, and struggles to accept the backlash, but nothing else is done with him. Poor Cavill has to put on a brave face and suffer speaking barely any lines when there’s so much going on around him. Apart from constantly saving Lois Lane, who is also useless for the second half, Amy Adams is again completely wasted.
Even in the actual fight, Superman barely says anything; you’d have thought with his mother being held hostage he’d make more of an effort to convince Bruce Wayne to stop. But no, that couldn’t happen, Snyder was far too busy gorging himself on the fantastic spectacle he was creating.
The entire nature of the Ultimate Edition also begs the question of why this version wasn’t released in cinemas. Was the studio too scared of releasing a three hour film? Or was it deliberately re-worked for release after it fell short of box office expectations? Regardless, it wouldn’t have made a huge difference upon release, but it would have at least made a bit of sense the first time around.
As disheartening as it is, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has few things improved upon with this extension. It’s an overlong, overstuffed, sensational mess that no veteran handler could pull off, let alone Zack Snyder. There are individual pieces within this mess that shine – the Batfleck is brutal, broken, and suitably dark; Wonder Woman shows the most promise of all the upcoming DC universe – but otherwise, it’s a big splat on the slate of modern day superhero/comic book films—purely relying on Wonder Woman next year (which thankfully has no sign of Snyder’s hands) to bring something worthwhile to this hurting universe.